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Perfect Pawtners

July 27, 2020

You make your way around the drive-through at the Auburn Way S McDonald’s. You order, pay, and get your warm bag of food. Little do you know, there was an adorable, alert Labrador Retriever also working the drive-through you just got your tasty McNuggets and fries.

Meet Joell Nylund and Andy: McDonald’s employees who happen to be a service dog team. Andy may look adorable and ready for belly scratches at any moment. Still, he is working – and not just for McDonald’s.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a service animal “is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.” Considering the diversity of the human race, the number of unique circumstances and disabilities is vast. A majority of these disabilities can benefit significantly with the use of a service dog.

While similar to service dogs, emotional support animals are not trained to identify and assist with different tasks and functions specifically. ESA’s primary duty is to provide emotional comfort- simply by being

With the recent increase in individuals using the rights of service dogs and emotional support animals (ESAs), there is unfortunate uncertainty between the two.

On a brisk Sunday in October of 2008, Joell Nylund woke up with a headache. By Friday, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor in her right frontal lobe. Four days later, she was undergoing surgery.

The right frontal lobe of the brain handles critical functions related to multitasking, memory, attention, and motivation. That’s where Andy comes in. Born and trained at Brigadoon Service Dogs in Bellingham, Andy’s specific training was catered toward mitigating the symptoms Nylund was left with from the tumor.

Service Dog breeders look at temperament, health, and behavior when selecting a dog for the handler. They found Andy to be an excellent match for Nylund, and he certainly has proven that to be true. “He and I are a team; we are partners,” said Nylund. “It’s not owner, not master- we are equals.”

Because of Andy, Nylund says she can get out of the house and work a job she normally wouldn’t be able to.After a substantial job search, accompanied by many rejections, Nylund accepted a position at McDonald’s. She struggled with obtaining a job while being partnered with a service dog but states she is so grateful that McDonald’s gave her a chance.

“We are going to make this work,” Operations Supervisor Ann Beurskens told Nylund upon offering her the position. “Andy is just a part of hiring Joell (A cute part!)”

Beurskens states she diligently works toward removing stereotypes and fallacies in the workplace. “I have always looked at hiring people with physical or cognitive challenges,” said Beurskens. “Some have worked out fantastically and others not so well, just as any other potential new hire.”

“Our people are the heart and soul of our organization,” said McDonald’s Owner Operator Stan Pennock. “As a local McDonald’s owner, I remain dedicated to accommodating [all employees’ needs] to create a comfortable and dynamic workplace for them where they can feel empowered to offer our customers the experience they have come to expect from McDonald’s.”

Having a fair and inclusive workplace is rewarding, but does come with its unique challenges. Some have voiced their concerns over hygiene and a dog’s role in a restaurant. Before hiring Nylund, Beurskens verified the different rules and regulations with the Health Department. Not only is Andy groomed daily, but “he [also] is not walking around the restaurant the entire time,” adds Beurskens. “Joell may place him in a down/stay position while she works in an area.”

Before the restaurant seating closures as a result of COVID-19, Nylund and Andy worked the dining hall, providing customer service to the patrons. “Joell has a fantastic personality, and I knew she would be great with our guests!” said Beurskens.

Seeing a dog in public is naturally exciting for kids and young children. Some do not understand he is working, and not there to play and be pet. Nylund typically sees this as a learning experience and seeks to educate the importance of service animals and the role they play in the community. To supplement this, Beurskens has made and hung informational posters around the restaurant. She has been told this was helpful.

Nylund is now training at the drive-through window, with Andy working right beside her.

Under the ADA, service dogs are permitted access, with their handler, almost anywhere the general public is allowed. This access applies to restaurants and businesses. Unlike a service dog, an ESA does not have public access rights (except for air travel).

“The disabled want to be treated just like everybody else,” says Nylund. Some businesses have turned Nylund and Andy away, on the pretense that dogs are not allowed in the establishment. While that may be true, service dogs under the law are considered medical equipment, not pets.

Nylund said it can be nerve-wracking, leaving the house daily with Andy, continually preparing for access denial. “When it comes to access denials, I do work on educating them, even after I’ve been thrown out.” Joell explains, “I will call or print out ADA fun facts and send them in the mail. Most of the time, employees will apologize and say they were not aware of the laws.”

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